Aklog Birara (Dr)
Part 1 of 4
“As a Nicaraguan might say, he is a son of a bitch, but he is ours.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt describing Nicaraguan dictator, Somoza.
Ethiopia is breaking apart at its core and seams. Ethiopia does not have a functioning let alone a pro-Ethiopia, pro-Ethiopiawinet, inclusive and patriotic central government. Ethnic federalism has eroded Ethiopia’s national independence, sovereignty and the common multinational bonds that bind Ethiopian society together severely if not irreparably. Ethnic political and social elites perpetrate this degradation—most prominently the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo People’s Liberation Front (OLF). This dreadful and deliberate condition of divide and rule has been taking place since 1991. It is deep.
Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party, the state and government play huge and detrimental roles in deepening the fracturing of Ethiopian society and the collapse of the country. Despite rhetoric, Ethiopia is not one country. The Prosperity Party government has failed. So has its Prime Minister who leads the party, state, and government.
Ethiopian stakeholders who care about the country and its people must be bold and courageous enough to think beyond tribe and politics, discuss and offer viable options now.
TPLF, a terrorist group now absolved by the Abiy regime governs and runs the Tigray region. The Oromia regional state is controlled and run by the Oromo Liberation Front’s (OLF’s) military wing often called OLA/Shine, another ethnic elite terrorist group. Celebrating their 50th anniversary, the founders of the OLF announced their decision to form a transitional government for “all of Oromia.” Their rationale is that the regional state has collapsed, insecure, lawless, and undemocratic. In other words, it is to answer the “Oromo question” of total hegemony even though Oromo political and social forces control and run the party, state, and government at the federal level and in Oromia.
Amhara are a core component of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is inconceivable without Amhara and vice versa. This fact notwithstanding, the Amhara regional state has become a war zone. The Oromo dominated and commandeered Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF)—no longer a national institution in defense of Ethiopia– is committing war crimes, ethnic cleansing, rape, and genocide targeting Amhara.
The OLA, Oromo Special Forces and allied agencies slaughtered 50,000 innocent Amhara civilians; and caused the displacement of more than one million Amhara in Wellega, Oromia alone.
Far from protecting Ethiopians including Amhara civilians and Amhara members of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Abiy Ahmed and his Army Chief of Staff, Marshall Berhanu Jula redirected the country’s Oromo led military machine against all Amhara. The pretext is restoration of law and order. Ethiopia is a lawless country. The real targets are Fano, Amhara military officers and soldiers, Amhara militia, academics, journalists, peaceful dissidents, civic leaders, and the rest who demand justice, fair treatment under the law, human security, empathetic treatment, and cessation of atrocities against selected targets, namely, Amhara. No one within this targeted cohort has committed a crime against humanity. None of the targets has attacked non-Amhara. None of the targets has abducted truck drivers. All targets are victims. The only thing they are doing is defending themselves and their communities from more state and non-state sponsored atrocities. Amhara faces existential threat. You get the point.
A large segment of Amhara members of the Prosperity Party is no doubt aghast at the situation. A few are doing their level best to defend Amhara interests against formidable odds. I urge them to join the just struggle against Amhara atrocities. They must believe that saving Amhara is tantamount to saving Ethiopia.
In his highly commendable and timely commentary “Ethiopia: Crushing Freedom Creating Fear” Counterpunch, July 3, 2023, British Investigative Reporter, and humanist Graham Peebles writes that the euphoria and hope of a better, just, fair, rule based, inclusive and democratic Ethiopia under the watch of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has evaporated into thin air. “—The true repressive colors of Abiy and his regime were revealed; a controlling divisive methodology that has intensified year on year.”
If you believe that Abiy Ahmed is the architect of Ethiopia’s bright, inclusive, and prosperous future; you do not need to read this four-part commentary.
All indicators on the ground show that Abiy Ahmed, whose humanity, commitment to justice, fairness and equality, the rule of law, and commitment to Ethiopia’s continuity as an independent and unified state I question, is, instead, committed to Oromo ethno-nationalist supremacy and hegemony. His arrogant and militaristic approach is not helping.
Abiy believes in his heart of hearts that the Oromo Gada system, an “Indigenous socio-political “platform of territorial expansionism, cultural assimilation, war, male superiority, socioeconomic and political dominance over other ethnic groups is the way to go. Someone with an ounce of humanity and empathy does not allow or facilitate or condone atrocities for more than four years. However important, planting trees is not a substitute to the universal principle of protecting innocent babies, pregnant women, the elderly. Incidentally, Oromo civilians are also dying in the process. So are Gamo. So are Gurage. So are innocent civilians in Beni-Shangul Gumuz and Gambella.
For Abiy Ahmed, the end goal justifies the means. Regardless of the number, sacrificing civilians in the process is part of doing normal business.
If Ethiopians do not wake up and end this travesty; it is inevitable that Gurage, Sidama, Somali, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Gambella and others will be swallowed before they know it.
How is it Ethiopia’s “messiah” reverted to his original game plan?
I do not remember a single week over the past four years when innocent civilians were not killed, abducted, or detained, expelled, or forced to flee. Nor a time when there was no conflict in Ethiopia. Both have negative effects on the national psyche and economy. Preaching the gospel of peace, security, the rule of law, togetherness with diversity (መደመር), inclusion, Pan Africanism, democracy, and a prosperous future does not change the reality of constant fear, insecurity, human degradation, and desperation among tens of millions of Ethiopians, most of them young, rural, poor, and disconnected from one another.
The United States does not really care whether a state is run by a despot, dictator, or tyrant. It does not really care about the pursuit of human rights, the rule of law or democracy. The overriding criterion in American foreign policy is whether the leader serves America’s national security and market interests. It is called loyalty. Abiy is more than a despot. He is a brutal dictator. He does not listen to alternative viewpoints. He does not even heed to his own submissive Parliament. He does not really care if he compromises Ethiopia’s national security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the wellbeing of 126 million people. His commitment is to retain power at any cost.
I was appalled when Abiy Ahmed declared his loyalty to the United States, including his public declaration to a foreign reporter that he “will fight and die” for the USA. Is there any leader of a sovereign country who has the audacity to say this?
Peebles is on the mark when he says “The sight of a despot masquerading as a lover of democracy is as repulsive as it is common. Leaders like Abiy rule through fear, control, and the fermentation of social division. The antidote to their brutality, while difficult to accomplish, is unity; sustained, peaceful, collective action (think Arab Spring e.g.). Against a united populous, focused and mobilized, no regime, no matter how cruel, can stand. Repressive regimes know this well, hence the focus on fueling communal divisions and maintaining social hardship. Political activism is a luxury when you are hungry or destitute.”
Amhara paid and are still paying a huge price because of their commitment to Ethiopia as a country and to Ethiopiawinet as their identity. This platform is no longer viable or wise. Amhara are being hunted and killed, expelled from their homes, displaced, and demeaned because they are Amhara. It makes no difference where they live and work. It makes no difference if they are intermarried and live peacefully with other ethnic groups. It makes no difference whether they are Christian or Muslim, rich or poor, pregnant, or old, small baby or priest, city dweller or urbanite, educated or illiterate, shoe shiner or millionaire, MD, or PhD.
The pattern of atrocities against Amhara over the past four plus years shows ethnic cleansing and genocide of Amhara.
What do you do when your survival is threatened?
The mushrooming of Amhara rebellion against the brutal, fascistic, divisive, tribalist and exclusionary government of Ethiopia is a justifiable fight for sheer survival.
With a compelling vision that also accommodates the hopes, aspirations, and future of the Ethiopian people; and carefully organized and sustained collaboratively with as many victims as possible, this Amhara movement has the potential to spearhead the overhaul of the entire Apartheid system. It has potential to save Ethiopia from dismemberment. The beneficiaries of a successful overhaul of the entire crushing and corrupt system will be all Ethiopians and Ethiopia itself.
Believe me; the Amhara cause is your cause too.
Two schools of thought
While it is true that Amhara, the victims, are rising and fighting savagery and barbarism in the 21st century, the broader struggle is between a) social and political forces who stand for justice, fairness, freedom, equality under the law, inclusion and democracy on the one hand; and b) ethno-nationalist and expansionist parties who wish to exercise total hegemony over Ethiopian politics, economics, budget, media, culture and institutions at the expense of Amhara and other ethnic communities.
Oromuma is hegemony. So is the assertion of Greater Tigray and the claim over Amhara lands. Both models are exclusionary, engendering hatred and conflict. Both are anti-democratic. Both are destructive.
I suggest here that Peebles could have added another dimension to his superb analysis, namely, that Abiy’s vision for Ethiopia’s future is Oromo tribal dominance (the Oromuma agenda and the Gada doctrine), political and resources capture (diversion, extortion, theft, bribery, and corruption exceeding that of the TPLF), exclusionary, delusional, and backward looking (channeling budgetary resources in support of luxury elephant projects such as new palaces), hateful (complete silence when innocent civilians are slaughtered like chickens) and territorial expansionism that leaves no one free.
Abiy manufactures agendas as a strategy of continued dominance.
As part of an anti-Amhara agenda, Abiy’s Oromo led Prosperity Party places singular focus on redressing transgressions of the past. Cadres and educational institutions are required to propagate anti-Amhara narratives—Neftegna, colonialist, expansionist, oppressor, discriminator. The intent is to generate and sustain hatred for and demonization of Amhara by changing the hearts and minds of non-Amhara ordinary peoples.
All national liberation fronts and ethnic elites buy into this mythology. Marriages have broken apart because of this.
The only front leader who retracted and apologized for this harmful anti-Amhara propagation is Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki. He and his government support the Amhara cause today. He and his government helped Ethiopia at a time of severe distress. Abiy’s government cannot afford to forget this immense contribution. Nor can it afford to forget the sacrifices made by Amhara Fano, Special Forces, and ordinary citizens. It is this coalition that worked with the ENDF and saved the government from being crushed.
False and misleading narratives have adverse consequences. This is the reason Amhara are targeted for harm all over Ethiopia.
We too are to blame. Amhara elites, politicians, academics, and intellectuals failed to challenge the above narratives in part because of our commitment to Ethiopia and to Ethiopiawinet. This mind set not to challenge proved costly. Today, those who critique the regime’s brutality and those who do not abide by its edict or are not loyal are themselves brutalized.
“In practice speaking out against the official line or drawing attention to Government involvement in the slaughter of Amhara people will lead, not just to “threats and warnings,” but to arrests and potential imprisonment. Once detained, the accused, if they reach the courts, has little or no chance of a fair hearing,” opines Peebles.
Broken national institutions.
Ethiopia’s judicial system is a joke. The judiciary is subjected to political pressure and interference. Even if courts determine innocence, Ethiopia’s federal and local police refuse to release the innocent. They operate above the law. Peebles quotes Freedom House that reports “Due process rights are not respected. The right to a fair trial is often not respected, particularly for government critics…. judgments rarely deviate from government policy… corruption within the justice system remains a significant challenge, and judges caught accepting bribes are rarely punished.”
The same is true for those who commit ethnicity and or faith-based killings. No one has been held accountable for the slaughter of more than 50, 000 Amhara civilians, including pregnant women, children, and elders in Wellega, Oromia. They were slaughtered like chickens by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in collaboration with Oromo Special Forces, with the consent of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and under the watch of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Who does the Abiy regime go after?
“Those who are being punished in Ethiopia are the lovers of truth, advocates for democracy, human rights, and political pluralism. There is no law-and-order worthy of the name – terrorists in the shape of the TPLF and OLF are part of the political class; ethnic violence against Amhara people and house demolitions of Amhara communities and other non-Oromos are ignored or, as many believe, facilitated by government agencies. Trust in the PM, in government bodies and national institutions is weak, uncertainty and anger is pervasive, particularly among the Amhara people,” says Peebles.
The most recent widely reported and debated agenda that Ethiopians and the international community must be weary is the sudden regime preoccupation with access to the Red Sea. This is a deliberate diversion. I have always supported Ethiopia’s legitimate access to the sea.
Remember, the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi abandoned Ethiopia legitimate claim to the port of Assab and granted Eritrea sovereign rights over its waters and ports. Eritrea is an independent and sovereign state and a member of the UN and the AU.
The abrupt and opportunistic resurrection of this policy gap is a diversion by Abiy Ahmed. How would you resort to this agenda now when Ethiopia is breaking apart? Under whose instructions are you doing this? For whose benefit? At what cost? What lesson do you draw from the catastrophic war initiated by TPLF? What lesson do you draw from the current civil war in Sudan in which foreign powers are involved?
I am grateful that Eritrea supported Ethiopia at a trying time. So, Eritrea is a friend. Friends discuss mutual benefits including access to the Red Sea. Friends explore win-win solutions.
Any suggestion to mobilize the Ethiopian people to go to war to reclaim a seaport or seaports entails a catastrophe worse than the war with the TPLF.
Certainly, Amhara must not be hoodwinked to sacrifice their lives. They must refrain if not reject being part of the Oromuma agenda of expansionism or the TPLF agenda of retribution.
Ethiopia has gone from bad to worse since the 1974 revolution. The level of human degradation, depravity, atrocity, targeted ethnic killing, displacements and economic and social deprivation is more shocking under the watch of Abiy Ahmed than ever before.
I agree with Peebles’ conclusion that “The TPLF designed a Methodology of Control and Division; PM Abiy and his Prosperity Party, have refined and expanded it.”
What do I suggest?
- Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Field Marshall Berhanu Jula must pull out their military machine from the Amhara region without preconditions.
- I urge Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to demonstrate moral courage and fortitude and apologize to the Amhara people for atrocities committed: slaughters in Wellega, the Mai Kadra massacre, the demolition of 200,000 homes that leave 800,000 plus Ethiopians homeless, and poverty stricken, incarceration and brutality against political prisoners.
- I further urge Prime Minister Abiy to restrain his intelligence, federal police, Oromo Special Forces, and allies from causing more casualties regardless of ethnicity or faith.
- I welcome and commend Amhara peaceful resistance in pursuit of justice, the rule of law, human rights, equality under the law and democracy. I urge non-Amhara to join this struggle.
- I urge the Ethiopian people to refuse to fight in the event Abiy Ahmed’s government calls for a reckless war against any sovereign neighboring country.
- I urge leaders and members of the Amhara Prosperity Party not to cave into federal government and TPLF pressures and accept the option of a “referendum” concerning Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya. TPLF annexed these lands by force before it took power in 1991 and then formalized annexation to give its action legal recognition.
Amhara must be weary of the divide and rule, “convince or confuse,” and change agenda constantly approach of the Abiy regime that weakens Amhara determination to defend rights and justice. For example, some in the Raya community believe they have numerical superiority if a referendum takes place. This is debatable. This option will have a cascading effect on Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt.
- I urge the Ethiopian community in the Diaspora to ask these core questions: a) Where was Abiy’s Army when Sudan invaded and annexed lands deep into Ethiopian territory in Gondar? Why is it unwilling to repulse occupying forces? b) Where was Abiy’s huge army when South Sudanese rebels penetrated and invaded 15 districts in Gambella and created massive havoc and destruction? c) Why did Abiy’s Ahmed’s federal police or army fail to defend recurring atrocities of Amhara in Wellega, Oromia? d) What justifies ENDF invasion and attacks of Amhara Fano, Special Forces and communities?
- I urge all Ethiopian stakeholders within and outside the country to begin the hard work of exploring viable transitional arrangements to save the Ethiopian people from incalculable hardships to which they are subjected and to mitigate the real risk of Ethiopian entering the final phase of fragmentation.
I conclude Part 1 by underscoring the fundamental notion that continued assault of Amhara, degradation of its leaders, culture, and institution is double whammy: It is also a) a threat for all non-Amhara people and b) a menace to the national security, sovereignty, independence, and continuity of Ethiopia.
In Part 2, I shall discuss the ramifications of the Sudanese civil war on Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn, the Red Sea, and the Middle East.
In Part 3, I shall discuss the sudden shift in US Ethiopia foreign policy.
In Part 4, I shall offer my take on the path forward.
July 6, 2023